Even though Our Daily Bread Employment Center’s flow of donated casseroles has dwindled over the last few months and it had to suspend the use of volunteers, the Catholic Charities-run outreach has kept up with a substantial increase in demand for meals during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lee Martin, program director, said Our Daily Bread is now serving an average of nearly 1,000 meals a day, including breakfast and lunch. That represents a 25 percent increase from the number of meals served prior to the global health crisis.
The program has adopted a “grab-and-go” approach, with clients practicing social distancing while they wait to enter Our Daily Bread one at a time to pick up a take-out tray of food and a drink. Our Daily Bread also provides meals for the homeless at the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center, its neighbor across the street along Fallsway.
“I was the former director of the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center and we would experience crises all the time,” Martin said, “but we’ve never had a crisis like this where we just don’t know when the end is going to be.”
Our Daily Bread recently received a boost with a $50,000 donation from the Knights of Columbus to help keep its meal program going. Archbishop William E. Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and chairman of the board of Catholic Charities of Baltimore, presented the check to Our Daily Bread April 14.
The donation was a result of a multi-million dollar effort by the Knights to assist in food distribution in more than 20 cities in 16 states and the District of Columbia.
Archbishop Lori called Our Daily Bread “a place of refuge and love and nourishment and goodness for the poor and homeless in Baltimore.”
“The first principle of the Knights of Columbus is charity,” Archbishop Lori said, “and during this pandemic, the Knights are stepping up to the plate in many, many ways to help those in need.”
William J. McCarthy Jr., executive director of Catholic Charities of Baltimore, said the funding will help Our Daily Bread continue a remarkable streak of service. For the last 39 years, Our Daily Bread has never missed a day in serving the hungry.
“That’s 14,000 uninterrupted days,” the executive director said, “whether that’s through blizzards, floods or pandemics.”
Martin said the meal program at Our Daily Bread underwent a strain at the start of the pandemic as parishes struggled to provide casseroles. Normally, 3,500 casseroles a month are donated by parishes, according to McCarthy. Each casserole feeds 10 to 12 people and costs an average of $25.
“Parishioners would get the supplies after Mass at church and then prepare the casseroles and bring them back to the parish for delivery to Our Daily Bread,” Martin said.
After public Masses were suspended to prevent the spread of the virus, many parishioners couldn’t pick up the supplies to make the casseroles.
To make up the difference, Martin said staff from Catholic Charities purchased the ingredients and made casseroles themselves. For weekends, bagged lunches that included sandwiches were distributed instead of hot meals.
Since parishes are coming up with new ways of providing casseroles in recent weeks, Martin said there has been an uptick in the number of donations. That will allow the agency to soon resume serving hot meals instead of bagged lunches on weekends, he said.
There is still a need for donated casseroles, Martin said, as well as a need for donations of protective masks worn by the staff members who serve the meals.
Normally, 45 volunteers help each day to serve the meals. With the volunteer program suspended, Catholic Charities redeployed some of its staff to help with the grab-and-go program at Our Daily Bread. Martin said there are now about 15 people working to keep the outreach functioning.
He noted that while some of the employment readiness training programs offered at Our Daily Bread have been suspended, other job placement and workforce development efforts continue remotely. The week of April 20, Catholic Charities will open a bilingual hotline (667-600-2291) to help people with benefits.
Martin said there is a lot of fear and apprehension among the homeless population about the pandemic, but they are grateful for what Catholic Charities offers.
“My managers and frontline staff say they (clients) are showing a lot of gratitude that we are still able to provide this service for them,” he said.
Martin said he is running out of ways to thank his staff for the long hours they are putting in to serve those most in need.
“I’ve been telling them that even though this is a crisis like none of us have ever seen before, it’s only going to make our team at Our Daily Bread much stronger when we get out of this,” he said.
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Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org